Analysts say Lebanese government on the edge of collapse
By Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: The monthslong paralysis that has hit Parliament and the Cabinet could lead to the collapse of state institutions as well as to the proliferation of corruption already rampant in the public administration, political analysts said Tuesday. Worse still, with no solution in sight to the nearly four-month-long Cabinet deadlock and a paralyzed Parliament unable to convene because of a repeat boycott by a majority of lawmakers, a power vacuum could also have dire consequences on the country’s fragile stability and struggling economy, analysts said.
The specter of a power vacuum comes at a time when Lebanon is facing serious threats to its security and stability arising mainly from the repercussions of the more than 2-year-old civil war raging in Syria and deep national divisions over that conflict.
Parliament’s mandate was extended for 17 months on May 31 after lawmakers from the rival March 8 and March 14 camps failed to agree on a new electoral law to conduct parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for June.
With hopes for a swift formation of a new Cabinet fading every day due to conditions and counterconditions set by rival factions over its makeup and role, the outgoing government cannot meet to act on crucial and essential issues. Hundreds of vacant key posts in the public service, military and diplomatic corps, for example, need filling. Even before it resigned on March 22, then-Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet had failed to make major appointments in the civil service because of sharp differences among its members.
Given a lack of consensus within the outgoing Cabinet and between President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun over a new Army commander, current military chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi’s mandate will be extended Wednesday for two years to avoid a leadership vacuum.
“If this paralysis persists, it will lead to the disintegration and collapse of the state. It will also lead to the proliferation of corruption in state departments due to the absence of accountability and oversight,” Abdallah Bou Habib, Lebanon’s former ambassador to the United States, told The Daily Star.
“The continued paralysis in constitutional institutions [Parliament and Cabinet] will negatively affect the state as a whole. It will lead to the breakdown of state institutions,” said Bou Habib, also the director of the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon, a Beirut-based think tank.
“The Lebanese have agreed only on the extension of the crisis by extending the mandate of Parliament and the Army commander,” he added.
Hares Chehab, secretary-general of the Islamic-Christian National Dialogue Committee formed by Bkirki, further warned of grave consequences for the country’s 1943 sectarian coexistence formula if the state of paralysis in state institutions becomes the norm.
“The wheel of the public administration is not moving because of political obstructionism. This is leading to the proliferation of bribery and corruption in state departments because in the absence of retribution and oversight ... the desire for bribery swells,” Chehab told The Daily Star.
“If the state of disintegration persisted in the country in general, and in state institutions in particular, it would ruin all reconciliation efforts,” Chebab said.
Referring to Sleiman’s recent call for the resumption of National Dialogue between March 8 and March 14 leaders, he said: “If reconciliation efforts continue to be ignored, this will threaten the coexistence formula, further adding tension to relations among the various sects. No sect will be immune from the negative reverberations of the disintegration state.”
Both Bou Habib and Chebab warned of security risks if state and constitutional institutions remained crippled. They also warned of adverse effects on the country’s war-shattered economy.
“So far, the Army is left intact. Definitely, the paralysis will leave a negative impact on the economy which is greatly affected by the deteriorating political situation and the unstable security situation,” Bou Habib said.
Despite a Sunni-Shiite discord – caused mainly by the Syrian crisis – which he said is preventing reaching any agreement on anything, Bou Habib said: “There is a local and regional decision that prevents a [military] confrontation in Lebanon.”
He added that the Future Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement were giving priority to regional issues. Hezbollah and Amal support the regime of Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad, while the Future Movement and its March 14 allies strongly back the Syrian uprising trying to topple the regime.
“Lebanese issues have become secondary. With this, we are weakening state institutions which are already very weak,” Bou Habib said. He added that a solution to the political crisis lay in giving priority to Lebanese issues.
Chehab said the current state of paralysis and disintegration in state institutions would leave “extremely negative repercussions” at all levels, particularly on the security situation and the economy.
“If the state of disintegration reaches an alarming rate, there are fears of a violent backlash,” he said, praising the role of the Army and security forces in preventing the country from sliding into chaos.
Referring to an economic fallout, Chehab said: “It is known that Lebanon’s economy is founded in particular on the services sector. But this sector in the fields of water, electricity and telecommunications is not functioning properly. How can investors and tourists come to a country lacking basic public services?”
The Economic Committees, the country’s private sector, have sounded the alarm bell about the current paralysis in government, warning of an economic catastrophe.
For the second consecutive year, the economy has suffered badly with the absence of thousands of tourists from Arab Gulf states after governments in these countries warned their citizens against traveling to Lebanon for security reasons.
Noting that Muslim and Christian sects felt frustrated with the current situation, Chehab said the main problem that needed to be urgently addressed was that citizens had become accustomed to living in a vacuum in public departments.
“Citizens have become used to the state of a [power] vacuum because they feel frustrated. They think that the situation in Lebanon is linked to what is happening outside the country,” he said.